Following is a reprint of my old comments at Miriam’s; I haven’t gained any more insight since, so I’ll reproduce it in full. Suggestions and opinions are welcome.
- I’m a reader since age of 3.5yo, a library user – since 5yo. And I’m gonna tell you: I feel lost in American libraries and bookstores. Who the hell are all those people on the shelves? How to discern American classics from Foreign classics from European Antiquity from Oriental Antiquity? The writers from 1920’s from the sentimental Romance crap? They all are just stacked alphabetically, according to the numerical system that doesn’t say anything useful to me, a reader. It only works if I already know the writer’s name I’m looking for; but what if I don’t? What if I have a vague idea on my mind that I’d like for my weekend to read someone resembling Collette, and from same period, only American – what should I do? […]
I only once worked in the school library (in 9th grade, as an extra-curr. mandatory activity; it was that or to assist a gym teacher), and that summer was the most serene and systematic among my teenage summers.
I’m trying to remember how librarians from that my one library experience combined categories duplicating alphabetical organization…I did a quick google search, in Russian, and now it all comes back to me!
It was based on the series of numbers we printed on the frontispiece (sorry, don’t remember the English term) at the upper left corner according to the catalog; something that looked like 380.005:20.69 or such, and meant 1) author or 2) general category (alphabetically) and then 3) subcategories within. Something like “Balzac, Honore – French Literature, XIX cent, Eugenie Grande“, so on so on. This way all French Literature from a certain period was within certain bookcase, in alphabetical order. Literary criticism of same said French literature, by various authors from various countries was in the Criticism section. And I always knew where to look for the naughty stuff!
I think this system was called UDC, but I’m not sure.Now, about the “Mystery”; how is it organized in American libraries – is a mystery to me, btw. Why in some cases Westlake is been put in “Fiction”, and sometimes he’s in “Mystery” – I’ve no idea (it’s not tied to the content, both cases – mystery novels). Poe, for instance – “mystery” or “short stories”?
Also, need guidelines.
My usual method that works well with books in Russian – to look at footnotes and fish for names of “the circle”. Like you start with a small collection of Akhmatova poetry from the 20’s , say Praying Beads, then in the commentary and footnotes there are usually sea of names associated with this or that verse: critics, colleagues, lovers, friends. Lev Gumilyov, Mikhail Kuzmin, Yury Annenkov, Al. Blok, Mayakovsky, Khodasevich, etc etc etc. Just go and read, greedily. This method doesn’t work with contemporary Am. literature, however. “Circles” are obsolete after Dorothy Parker; every man (or, more often, a woman) for him/herself.
What do you do? How do you choose the books you read?